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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sādhu Bābā's songbook and adjusting siddhānta

Bhakta: "In the evening Ārati song of your Guru's āshram's songbook there is a mentioning of Gaur Gopāl. How can Mahāprabhu be a cowherd?"

Advaitadas: "The non-difference of Kṛṣṇa and Gaura does not extend that far. It does not express itself in non-different pastimes. Gaur līlā is quite different from Kṛṣṇa līlā - it is a missionary līlā, a līlā of renunciation, while Kṛṣṇa has no mission at all - He is just enjoying Himself. In no phase of His līlā is Mahāprabhu tending cows, yet through such names as Gaura Gopāl we are reminded that He is Kṛṣṇa."

Bhakta: "Then, at the end of that song it is described that Raghunāth Dās Gosvāmī cries out hu hu."

Advaitadas: "Exclamations are quite different in Indic languages. The word he (pron: hey, as in he rādhe braja devike ca lalite) in India is translated as 'O!' in the west and hā hā is translated as 'Alas!'.

Bhakta: "In Gaura's evening ārati you see that conch-shells resound. Isn't this aiśvarya?"

Advaitadas: 'As I said before, though Gaur and Kṛṣṇa are non-different there is a great difference in their pastimes and manifestations. There is an overall attitude of reverence towards Gaura (with the exception of His wife, mother and sometimes Nitāi-Cānd) throughout the three phases of His pastimes, Mahāprabhu would not eat from Rāmānanda Rāy, but in Kṛṣṇa līlā the cowherds climb on Kṛṣṇa's shoulders when He loses a game!"

Bhakta: "In the Rādhā-evening ārati it is described that She is sitting on a jewelled throne. That seems to be aiśvarya too."

Advaitadas: "Smt. Rādhārāṇī is not the daughter of a cobbler - She is a princess, the daughter of a chieftain. She is not living in a clay hut on the side of the road like so many beggars. The Mādhurya is obvious in everyone's attitude in Vraja - the mañjarīs, little 12/13 year old girls are kicking the Lord out of the kuñja - that is extreme mādhurya! As for the jeweled furniture, we have discussed before that some of this may have been decsribed as such to attract people with glitz. Anyway, what would be the alternative? Shall we seat our princess on the floor, which is so cold in winter and so hot in summer?"

Bhakta: "But somebody wrote that in your āśram, he could have left it out. I wonder why he wrote it?"

Advaitadas: "No no this is a big mistake. These songs we sing in Sādhu Bābā's āśram are not composed by us - they are the general arati songs for the entire Gauḍīya Sampradaya. They are being sung by millions of bhaktas all over Bengal, Bangladesh, Orissa, Manipur, Agartala and Vraja. They are very old too."

Bhakta: "Still the jewelled throne could have been edited out of the song to increase or preserve the madhurya."

Advaitadas: "We do not edit songs, nor is it aiśvarya. We can not seat our princess in any discomfort."

Bhakta: "But if there is too much opulence then it is no longer rural."

Advaitadas: "I agree with that, but again, She is a rural princess, daughter of a local chieftain."

Bhakta: "But then who makes all these things? It is very intricate to manufacture such furniture. In the countryside it must be as simple as possible."

Advaitadas: "Mādhurya does not mean cro magnon or neanderthal, caveman. In the Bhāgavata, early 10th canto, there are such sweet descriptions, yet Nanda Mahārāja also gives profuse charity. They were not walking in deer skins and living in caves like cavemen, having no skills and no sciences. Even here in the west if you go to the countryside or to the woods you will have roads and internet connections, yet the surrounding is very sweet. Perhaps you have seen the 94-episode Hindi Mahābhārat, which was produced in 1988? There is a nice episode in it about Kṛṣṇa's Vraja līlā. There I found the perfect balance between a joyful and comfortable life for Kṛṣṇa within the sweet rural environment. Nanda Mahārāja's house was not a mega palace there but also not a clay hut."

Bhakta: "Then, on page 33 and 35 of the same songbook, is a description of khol mangal, all kinds of rituals are mentioned there..."

Advaitadas: "Yes, the tradition does more about Utsavas (festivals like Gaura Pūrṇimā, Janmāṣṭamī, Nṛsiṁha Caturdaśī etc.) than just fasting and feasting. There are days of preparation, lectures held, 24 hours kīrtan and a day called ādhivāsa - a kīrtan held on the eve of a big celebration (the songs are included in that songbook). Water is brought from the Ganges or Yamunā, banana trees are cut and placed in prescribed places on the utsava-grounds, there is a ceremony called Ghāṭ-sthāpan (establishing the pots) etc. etc. Items like collecting Gaṅgā-water and cutting banana trees wont be possible in the west, but at least ādhivāsa- and 24 hour kīrtan can be organized in devotee societies. Before the Bhāgavata-lecture is given sandal pulp and flowers should be offered to the book, the prasād of which is then usually offered to the khol (mṛdaṅga), and the sandal-prasād is given to the devotee-audience, in the proper sequence according to the devotees' seniority. Proper respect is to be given to khol and karatālas - one should not step on them or over them, f.i. Since I was never in charge of such things while in India I do not know all the technical details. When I last attended the utsavas in Sādhu Bābā's āśram in Kārtik 2003 I told my, now late, sister Kṛṣṇā that some of the rituals would be impossible to perform in the west and she said 'Then just do hari-nāma'.

Bhakta: "Then, on page 33, betel leaves are mentioned. Ordinary jīvas should not take that."

Advaitadas: This song is written by Parameśvar Dās, one of Nityānanda Prabhu's 12 cowherds, and is sung by all Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas. It is authoritative. Though betel leaves are bad for the teeth and for the heart, and I surely don't recommend profuse use, it is not strictly prohibited."

Bhakta: "I thought it was an intoxicant."

Advaitadas: "No it is not an intoxicant. I took it many times when I was in Navadwīp, but it never did anything to my mind at all."

Bhakta: "Isn't it sometimes better or even necessary while preaching to adjust the philosophy?"

Advaitadas: "In my own experience in preaching to scientifically thinking people I realize how difficult it is to preach the actual siddhānta, which is much more abstract than the way it was originally preached to us westerners. It is usually not understood or accepted by such people that many things are 'inconceivable' 'causeless' or 'beginningless', so I have a lot of understanding for those who did adjust and simplify the philosophy, like fall-vada and meritocratic varṇāśrama, to preach and appeal to the rationalistic western public. Most westerners also don't have the simple acceptance that Indians have. Still, the śāstrik truth must be preached as it is, even if it is more difficult to comprehend for people in general."

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